Epigenomics of brain wiring and behaviour in honey bees

To study epigenetic profiles of neuronal cell types in the honey bee brain.

One area in which molecular progress in brain rsearch can be made is by studying different cell types. To understand why a particular cell type remains in a particular state requires the determination of its epigenetic signature as an indication of the stability of that state. This is experimentally most easily described by methylation tags that change as the cell is subjected to internal and external stimuli. The epigenetic signature will depend on the genetic background of the cell and can be modulated in time and space. Additional changes are instantiated mainly at replication, but can be altered owing to diet, age, stress, drugs, or in the case of non-dividing neurons, as a result of experience.

To unravel the extent to which specific epigenetic signatures differentiate functional areas of the honey bee brain we are using small, laser captured sections of the mushroom bodies (a brain centre implicated in learning and integration). The aim of this experiment is to determine if methylation profiles of individual genes implicated in neuronal functions could be visualised in smaller subsets of neurons. We already have shown that it is possible to measure the level of methylation of individual genes in subsections of the bee brain corresponding to just a few hundred neurons.